Christ and the Spirits in Prison – Nana Yaw Aidoo

Nana Yaw Aidoo

The apostle Peter wrote;

Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, that aforetime were disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water (1 Pet. 3:18-20 ASV).

The popular view concerning this passage is that, our Lord at His death, and whiles He was in the hadean realm, preached to the disobedient of the pre-flood age. It is this writer’s belief that to accept this interpretation is to give comfort to the Catholic doctrine of “purgatory,” which is the doctrine of a post-death second chance.

Two questions enable us to see the error inherent in this popular view. First, why did our Lord choose to preach only to those who lived in the time of Noah?

Were there not wicked people who lived during the days of Abraham who needed an opportunity to repent and turn to God after death? Were there sinners who defied God during the days of Moses who would cherish an opportunity to be saved after death? Does the reader not believe that during the days of the Judges there were those who went to their graves rebelling against God? Would they not relish the privilege of being “preached to” again? Absolutely! (Marvin Weir; Studies in 1, 2 Peter and Jude; 1998 Annual Denton Lectures, ed. Dub McClish).

Unless the God who would have all men be saved is a respecter of persons, then the view under review cannot possibly be a true one.

Second, what exactly did our Lord preach? If the gospel, then He preached an incomplete one since He had not yet resurrected from the grave (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4). If a message to get His hearers to repent, then what of passages like Hebrews 9:27 that teach that the state in which a man dies is the state in which he will be for all eternity? If it was to inform the faithful in the hadean realm that through His death He had completed their redemption, then we hasten to remind the reader that Peter did not say Christ preached to the faithful but to the disobedient.

The foregoing ought to be enough to show that the popular view that Christ at His death, and while He was in the hadean realm, preached to some people is a false position.

While it is true that the text teaches that Christ did some preaching, the preaching was done by Christ “in the spirit” to those who lived “…in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing…” Christ did the preaching “in the spirit” through the agency of Noah (2 Pet. 2:5) and not in His own person. The disobedient of the pre-flood era are said to be “spirits in prison” because at the time of the writing of Peter’s epistle, they were disembodied spirits in the prison of those who die in their sins (cf. Jude 6; Rev. 20:1-3, 7). Those who argue that since it is written that Christ “went and preached” then He must have done it in His person, must explain why it is said in Ephesians 2:17 that Christ went and preached peace to the Gentiles, when He never did anything of that sort in His own person? Clearly, though it is written that Christ did preach to the Gentiles, He did it by the agency of His apostles especially the apostle Paul. Obviously, “what one does through an authorized agent, he is said to do himself…” (Guy N. Woods; Commentary on Peter, John and Jude; pp.101). (See also John 3:1-2). The apostle in 1 Peter 3:18-20 combines what Christ in the spirit did through Noah to those who lived in the pre-flood age, and their state at the time of the writing of his epistle. That is to say, at the time of Peter’s letter, they were “spirits in prison.” However the preaching was directed to them in the days of Noah, their lifetimes, and was done by Christ “in the spirit” through Noah.

The preaching to these who are now deceased occurred on earth during their lifetimes. Common “horse-sense” is all that is necessary for one to realize that all the lost in torment would repent if given the opportunity to do so… Those who go to their graves guilty of practicing the works of the flesh “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). The statement of the Hebrew writer is still true: after death “cometh judgment” (Heb. 9:27) (Weir, ibid).

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